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Framework for Analysis of the Quality of Screening Reports

3 Results

The results of the analysis, based on the final set of indicators selected, are provided in Table 2 and discussed in the subsections that follow.

Table 2. Results of the Analysis of Screening Reports
AspectIndicatorResult
YesNoN/A
1. Compliance with Act1. Consideration of environmental effects of project (other than those related to Indicators 2 and 3)1500
2. Consideration of malfunctions and accidents5100
3. Consideration of cumulative environmental effects690
4. Consideration of significance of environmental effects870
5. Consideration of measures to mitigate significant adverse environmental effects1500
2. Context for the Reader6. Adequate project description1230
7. Adequate environmental description1230
8. Adequate description of potentially relevant past, present and future projects or activities2130
3. Public Input9. Documentation of basis for determining whether or not to consult the public5100
10. Direct or indirect public input to screening960
11. Reflection of public input in screening report546
4. Environmental Effects12. Analysis of site-specific project environmental effects, or explanation why analysis not warranted.780
13. Analysis of cumulative environmental effects, or explanation why analysis not warranted4110
5. Mitigation Measures14. Some mitigation measures tailored specifically to the project and its environmental setting870
15. Mechanisms identified for ensuring implementation of mitigation measures780
6. Follow-up Program16. Documentation of basis for determining whether or not a follow-up program was appropriate780

3.1 Compliance with the Act

All screening reports demonstrated compliance with the Act in relation to Indicator 1 (Consideration of environmental effects of project) and Indicator 5 (Consideration of measures to mitigate significant adverse environmental effects). However, only 27% of the reports demonstrated compliance in relation to all five indicators.

Screening reports were weakest in relation to Indicator 2 (Consideration of malfunctions and accidents), which applied to 33% of the reports. Indicator 3 (Consideration of cumulative environmental effects) followed closely; it applied to 40% of the reports. Just over half of the reports demonstrated compliance with Indicator 4 (Consideration of significance of environmental effects).

The Act requires that screenings “include a consideration of” the factors that are captured by the five selected indicators of compliance. In conducting the study, this requirement has been interpreted in a narrow legal sense. Each factor associated with an indicator of compliance was deemed to have been “considered” if it was explicitly or implicitly addressed in the screening report. For example, the explicit mention of a factor, coupled with an unsubstantiated statement that the factor did not apply to the project in question, was deemed sufficient to satisfy the Act’s requirement to consider the factor. Unsubstantiated statements were taken at face value, and their underlying validity was not explored or assessed.

In all of the screening reports examined, mitigation measures were specified for a considerable range of potential adverse environmental effects, not solely for those that might be considered significant without mitigation. Moreover, none of the screening reports identified which of the identified adverse environmental effects, if any, would have been significant in the absence of mitigation. It was assumed that such broadly based analyses of adverse environmental effects would have implicitly encompassed any effects that might have been considered significant without the application of mitigation measures. Therefore, all 15 screening reports were assessed as being consistent with Indicator 5.

3.2 Context for the Reader

The following were identified as the key contextual elements of a screening report from the reader’s standpoint:

  • an adequate project description;
  • an adequate environmental description; and
  • an adequate description of potentially relevant past, present and future projects or activities

The range of potential readers of screening reports is potentially broad and diverse. He or she could be a member of the public; a generalist decision-maker in the responsible authority’s organization; an officer of a provincial department or agency; a member of the proponent’s organization; a member of an environmental non-government organization; an Aboriginal person; a student or academic; a member of the staff of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development; or a member of Parliament. A reasonable level of education (Grade 11 or 12, or secondaire 4 or 5 in the Province of Quebec) and an absence of environmental specialist knowledge have been assumed. In every case the reader would need and expect clear, concise and complete information on the screening that had been conducted.

The term “adequate” from the reader’s standpoint means that the screening report provides information at a sufficient level of detail to give the reader the necessary context for comprehending the analysis of environmental effects (including cumulative effects); the significance of those effects; and the measures specified for mitigating potential adverse effects. The standard of rigour applied in making the above judgement varied according to the relative scale and complexity of the project; the potential sensitivity of the project’s environmental setting; and the likelihood of there being other projects or activities that would contribute to adverse cumulative environmental effects. Because the types of projects assessed by screening cover a very broad spectrum, and occur in a wide range of environmental settings, establishing specific criteria for rating adequacy of descriptions was judged to be impractical. It was necessary to exercise professional judgement on a case-by-case basis.

Of the 15 reports analyzed, 12 (80%) were judged to have provided sufficient information about both the project and its environmental setting to enable the reader to grasp the assessment of the project in isolation from other projects and activities (Indicator 6: Adequate project description; Indicator 7: Adequate environmental description). However, only two reports (13%) were judged to provide the reader with sufficient contextual information to grasp possible cumulative environmental effects implications (Indicator 8: Adequate description of potentially relevant past, present and future projects or activities).

3.3 Public Input

Five of the 15 screening reports documented the basis for determining whether or not to consult the public, as per paragraph 7.1.3 of the Ministerial Guideline on Assessing the Need for and Level of Public Participation in Screenings under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (Indicator 9: Documentation of basis for determining whether or not to consult the public). It should be noted that the reports analyzed in the study pertained to screenings that had been conducted well before the 2006 date of issue of the above Ministerial Guideline. Consequently, it would have been unrealistic to expect that a significant proportion of the screening reports would have met this particular criterion. However, this should not be the case when more recent screening reports are analyzed.

Sixty percent of the screening reports (9 out of 15) stated that public input had been either directly sought, or indirectly obtained through other means (Indicator 10: Direct or indirect public input to screening). However, the nature of that input or how it had affected the assessment was reflected in only five of those nine reports (Indicator 11: Reflection of public input in screening report).

Three screening reports indicated that specific commitments had been made as a result of the input received. One stated that project activities would be rescheduled to avoid conflict with a particular traditional land use of a First Nation; another that an area earmarked for a habitat compensation scheme would be relocated in response to public input; and a third that public input had influenced the design of the proposed project.

3.4 Environmental Effects

As discussed in section 3.1, the environmental effects of projects were considered in every case; however, this was more typically done at a generic level. Only 7 of the 15 reports analyzed (47%) contained any qualitative or quantitative analysis of site-specific project effects or any explanation that such analysis was not warranted (Indicator 12: Analysis of site-specific project environmental effects, or explanation why analysis not warranted).

Analyses or explanations related to cumulative environmental effects (Indicator 13: Analysis of cumulative environmental effects, or explanation why analysis not warranted) were less prevalent, occurring in only 4 of the 15 screening reports (27%). Moreover, in two of those cases, the term “cumulative effects” was not interpreted in a manner consistent with the Act.

3.5 Mitigation Measures

Mitigation measures specifically related to the project and its environmental setting were proposed in 8 out of 15 screening reports (53%) (Indicator 14: Some mitigation measures tailored specifically to the project and its environmental setting) and 7 out of 15 reports proposed mechanisms to ensure their implementation (Indicator 15 Mechanisms identified for ensuring implementation of mitigation measures).

3.6 Follow-up Program

A follow-up program is defined in the Act as “a program for a) verifying the accuracy of the environmental assessment, and b) determining the effectiveness of any measures taken to mitigate the adverse environmental effects of the project”. Follow-up programs for projects assessed by screening are discretionary under section 38(1) of the Act.

The Act links the responsible authority’s decision on the appropriateness of a follow-up program to its decision, under paragraph 20(1)(a), on its course of action in respect of the project. Although the Act is silent on whether the need for, and the requirements of, a follow-up program should be addressed during the conduct of the screening, that would nevertheless be the ideal time and place to address those questions. (In the cases of comprehensive studies and panel reviews, the Act requires those same questions to be addressed during the conduct of the assessment.) Therefore it is reasonable to expect that the same questions be addressed in the screening report (Indicator 16: Documentation of basis for determining whether or not a follow-up program was appropriate). That occurred in 7 of the 15 screening reports examined, but in the remaining cases the question of the need for a follow-up program was not addressed.